Messages in Time (The Secret Thing & The Desiderata)

A Letter to Future Me

Sent: October 2013

Delivery Date: November 2028


Was I right? Did the world change as much as I thought it would? Did empty entertainment give way to ubiquitous learning and quiet contemplation?

Did we manage to put the dignity and well-being of humanity at the forefront of the global agenda?

Were fossil fuels finally deposed by cheap and efficient solar power? Or was it something else? Fission perhaps?

Did religious zealotry fizzle out like I wished it would?

We did find cures for all of the big killers, no? (AIDS, cancer, small-mindedness and greed.)

Are creativity, empathy and insight finally more valued than cut-throat ‘business acumen’.

Is nature recovering beautifully? How are the tigers and the whales doing now that we’ve realised we cannot continue abusing nature in the name of short-term profits.

What’s your job like now? Are you still teaching? If you are, it must be an incredible thing to behold. All tinkering, experimenting, discovery, collaboration and customisation?

Only a few years to retirement… I hope you’re still trying to make an impact! So many questions! Please excuse me for asking them – I know you can’t really answer me, but maybe this message from yourself, written a decade and a half ago will give you pause to look back and see how far you’ve come. And perhaps you’ll appreciate where you are a little more.

There’s that secret thing I am burning to do right now. I hope you’ve done it. If you have, please disregard the previous two paragraphs. You must be looking back at me with a touch of pity and amusement. I hope this is the case.


A Poem to My Younger Self

Sent: October 2013

Delivery Date: January 1998 (Not Received)


There are a few things I wish I could say to myself when I was a much younger man, just starting out in the world. In a way, I’m glad I wasn’t able to, because most of who I am personally and professionally stems from the lessons I learnt from a long litany of mistakes.

Were I able to, though, here’s what I would say to myself, aged 24:


This is a wake-up call:
Don’t get stuck,
Stop being so small.
It’s to time to wake up.
Think bigger, think long, think deep.
Leave behind the doubts and the drama.
Get enough exercise and sleep
And always maintain your sense of humour.
Life is both far shorter and much longer than you know.
There will be time to do all the things you want to:
To dream and imagine and to craft and grow,
But you must get started and do.
Don’t hurt others, it leads to a lifetime of regret.
Be gentle, be good and be kind every day.
Forgive people and life’s little upsets.
In the end it all turns out okay.


Now that I think about it, I think I actually did get this poem, albeit in a different (and much more poetic) guise. I’ve had it on my wall since I started teaching. And it’s still there. But some lessons are only learned when we’re ready to learn them.

In case you’re interested, it’s called the Desiderata (which, poignantly, means ‘to clear things up’). I’m sure most people have come across it, but for those few who haven’t:


Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be careful. Strive to be happy.

                                       (Max Ehrmann)




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